Burst Water Pipes: Quick, Decisive Action; Slow Heat

Contributed by BSM Staff

MEMPHIS -- Freezing temperatures can cause cracks to form in water pipes, and when they burst, quick decisive action is necessary to prevent as much damage as possible.

“Many people panic when they find they have frozen pipes, and their immediate instinct is to thaw fast with high heat – propane torch, heat guns, etc. – which is extremely dangerous,” said Peter Duncanson, a 30-year veteran of ServiceMaster Restore. “You need to warm things up with controlled heat. For example, moving the refrigerator out a few feet may allow enough air circulation to thaw a supply line.

“Many people also don’t realize that water lines on the north and east walls of the home are more susceptible to freezing than those on the south and west sides, but all should be monitored.”

Frozen water pipes can wreak havoc. When a pipe freezes, water may slow to a trickle or not flow at all. Pressure inside the pipe from expanding ice can leave you with no water or cause your pipes to burst, leading to a full-on flood and expensive property damage.

What to do once pipes freeze

  • Turn off the water valves to reduce pressure on the frozen pipes and minimize flooding if they burst.
  • Use a hairdryer to warm the area and slowly melt the ice. A heat lamp can also help warm the area. Do NOT use a propane torch or heat guns.


  • Wrap and secure a heavy towel around the pipe to concentrate heat to one area. Then, place a bucket underneath the pipe(s) and pour warm water over the towel.
  • Look for any leaks in exposed pipes, as well as damp patches on walls, ceilings and floors. Once the pipes are thawed, there may still be pressure, and this creates an increased risk for leaks or breaks.


  • Some pipes may need to be completely replaced in order to avoid future failure.

Consider the following immediate actions:
Disconnect electrical equipment. To prevent electrocution, make sure the electrical systems are turned off. Do not wade into standing water with the power on.

In the event of a burst pipe or valve, stop the water at its source. Turn off the main water shutoff valve.

Salvage anything that can be from the flood zone. Water damage occurs almost instantly, but you still may be able to remove some items from the floor.

Call the insurance company.

Document everything. Take photos and videos with your phone and make note of everything the water touched, including your possessions and the structure of your home itself.

Remove standing water. With most of the standing water removed, use a wet-dry vac (make sure to remove the filter for dry vacuuming) to start removing water from harder-to-reach areas.

Call a water damage restoration company. Your insurance company may be able to guide you to an approved contractor, or you can check reviews.

With approximately 2,000 franchised and licensed locations around the world, ServiceMaster Restore and ServiceMaster Recovery Management (SRM) serve customers through a global network of franchises available 24/7/365 to provide residential and commercial restoration services resulting from damage caused by water, fire, smoke or mold. For more, go to servicemasterrestore.com.